GREEN BAY—Come Sunday, it will have been 15 years and two days since Terrell Owens dramatically won an NFC wild-card playoff game for the 49ers against the Packers and cathartically removed San Francisco from its subservience to Green Bay over the previous three years.
Well, the script is flipped now, and it's the Packers looking to turn the tables against a 49ers team that has beaten Green Bay three times in the last 16 months, including in the playoffs a year ago.
The Packers in the locker room this week may have been downplaying the payback angle, but three consecutive losses to the same team sticks with any player in some form or fashion.
"It's not like a redemption thing or we're going to take back what they took from us," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "They've beat us. They can say whatever they want. They kind of have the crown over us. The good thing is Sunday is a new day for everybody."
Back in the mid-1990s, this rivalry was even more one-sided in favor of the Packers. Green Bay's upset of defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco in the 1995 NFC divisional round at Candlestick Park was the seminal game in the Packers' renaissance.
What followed were a dramatic Monday night overtime win plus a divisional playoff victory in the rain and mud, both in 1996 at Lambeau Field; a '97 NFC title triumph at Candlestick to send the Packers to their second straight Super Bowl; and a '98 regular-season win in Green Bay that made it five straight for the Packers over the 49ers – three in the postseason – heading into the '98 playoffs in San Francisco.
The Packers were on the verge of a sixth consecutive win, with the 49ers on the Green Bay 25-yard line and trailing 27-23 with eight seconds left. Steve Young's stumble and subsequent pinpoint throw between multiple defenders got T.O. pinballed at the goal line with three ticks remaining but transplanted him instantly into NFL playoff lore.
There's been nothing as theatrical as T.O.'s catch in the current series of Packers-49ers clashes, but Sunday will mark just the second postseason meeting, and the weather alone could make this one another classic.
In San Francisco's three straight wins over Green Bay, the 49ers have been the better team, but Green Bay has had its chances. In the 2012 opener, the Packers trailed by eight points with the ball twice in the fourth quarter, but an interception with 8:50 left and turnover on downs near midfield in the final minute clinched the 49ers' 30-22 win.
Last year's playoff game is best remembered for San Francisco's 579 yards of total offense, but the score was tied, 24-24, midway through the third quarter. In this year's opener, the Packers rallied for a 28-24 lead in the fourth quarter, only to let it slip away in a six-point loss.
"I try not to think about that too much," receiver James Jones said of the past. "They beat us last time. We just have to go out there and find a way to win. I ain't holding no grudges or nothing. We're in the playoffs, they're in the playoffs, it's zero-zero."
Interestingly, the last-second drama that's now 15-year-old history proved only a temporary reprieve for the 49ers. Not only did they lose the following week, by just two points at Atlanta in the divisional round, they went on to drop eight more in a row to the Packers from 1999 through 2010, including another wild-card playoff game 12 years ago.
Last year's opener broke that run and now the onus falls on the Packers to stop this in its tracks.
"I feel like we owe it to ourselves and our fans and the people that support us to win this game at home," defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. "The past, you can learn from it, but that really has no telling on what's going to happen Sunday."
Given what's at stake, and how fate nodded at the Packers in providing them a shot at the NFC North crown with a 7-7-1 record and one game left, and how one of the most memorable plays in the 188 Packers-Bears installments afforded the Packers this chance … would it be worth sacrificing what the 49ers did in this rivalry for 12 years after T.O.'s catch for the Packers to somehow, some way, keep this seemingly fateful season alive?
Maybe it won't take a deal with the devil, but if Sunday's game comes down to the last eight seconds, it might be tough not to at least think about it. Additional coverage - Jan. 3